HEATHCOTE capped a week of mixed emotions to end its HDFNL netball season on a winning note in a victory over Leitchville-Gunbower on Saturday.
The Saints entered the week as a live finals chance but saw their hopes of sneaking into fifth spot vanish on Wednesday after Huntly was awarded the win in its round 17 match against Elmore on a technicality, due to a Bloods player not correctly being listed on the scoresheet.
That left the Hawks in the box seat to claim fifth spot, which they duly did despite a 65-38 loss to White Hills on Saturday, while the Saints went into their game against the Bombers an insurmountable two wins behind Huntly.
The Saints, brilliantly led by their joint playing coach Brooke Bolton, were able to close the margin to one win with a stirring 38-31 win over the Bombers at Barrack Reserve.
But it was a bittersweet triumph in some ways.
Had Elmore's 84-25 win over Huntly stood and the Hawks not been awarded the win, Heathcote would have snared a spot in the finals by virtue of their superior percentage, as both teams would have ended with five victories.
In eighth spot before the weekend, Heathcote climbed to sixth spot, finishing level on wins with Lockington-Bamawm United (seventh) and Leitchville-Gunbower (eighth) in a tight race in the middle section of the ladder.
Both the Cats, another big improver this season, but who lost 77-34 to Elmore, and the Bombers, who were beaten by the Saints, had the chance to wrest fifth spot from the Hawks on Saturday, but were unable to conjure that magical sixth win.
While unlucky not to break their finals drought, Saints coach Bolton was intent to focus on the positives from Saturday's result and a much-improved season overall.
"The last time we played Leitchville-Gunbower we came out and played one of our worst games of the year, but given everything that has gone on, it was great to come out and finish the season on a high," she said.
"It showed that regardless of not making finals, we were good enough to be there.
"I was very happy with the efforts of every player that stepped onto the court - I thought everyone did their job.
"It was an awesome way to finish the year."
Bolton conceded it had been a tough week emotionally for the Saints after learning their finals fate had not only been taken out of their own hands, but had disappeared altogether before stepping onto the court.
But she was full of praise for the way her players had handled an obvious difficult predicament.
"It was definitely an up and down week, especially after waiting around (the previous) week to see if we were still in it," Bolton said in reference to last weekend's bye.
"Then there was that excitement in getting the girls up and about, making sure everyone got to training and we got a good hit-out, and then to get the news on Wednesday that it didn't really matter what happened, it was disappointing.
"I think you come out of that one of two ways - you can put your hands up and say it doesn't matter, or you can come out with a point to prove and that's what we did today."
A pleasing all-around performance from the Saints featured solid contributions from goal keeper Jen Van Neutegem, wing attack Isobel Caughey and Alice Gales, who stepped in to help fill the void left by the absence of regular goal shooter Annalyse Carroll.
With their hopes still alive going into Saturday, Bombers coach Lauren Dehne said it was a disappointing end to an otherwise good season of improvement and building for the future.
"We came out full of intent and really wanted to finish the season on a high, or if possible, still grab that small chance of finals, but it wasn't to be," she said.
"But full credit to Heathcote, they were on today and really deserved the win.
"I really felt for them, without the events of this week, they would have snuck into fifth."
While their own task of reaching finals became more difficult as a consequence of Wednesday's league decision, Dehne said it had put a bit of extra fire in the belly of her team.
"It wasn't deflating as we just focused on what we could control," she said.
"Obviously we didn't get the result we were after, but it lit a fire in us.
"I'm sure it put a bit of fire into Heathcote too and it turned into a good contest.
"We just couldn't find our angles in attack; we kept throwing into hands and we weren't making the right leads at the right times. We let them dictate defensively."
Dehne praised a sound defensive effort from her own team, led by goal keeper Macey Brereton, who bounced back from a dizzy spell in the third quarter, goal defence Ashley Cullen and wing defence Gemma Angove.
Meanwhile, third-placed Mount Pleasant gained a nice psychological edge over Colbinabbin in the event the teams meet in the finals by scoring a 54-44 win over the Grasshoppers.
The Blues, who will meet Elmore in next Saturday's qualifying final, led by two goals at quarter time and increased the margin at every change of end.
Colbinabbin and Huntly clash in next Sunday's elimination final on the Grasshoppers' home court, with both sides looking to bounce back from losses.
White Hills win over Huntly ensured the Demons finished the home and away season in top spot with a 15-1 record, one win ahead of Elmore (14-2).
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